Get Neutrally Buoyant
If you’re doing it right, scuba diving is usually anything but strenuous, and experienced divers know that maintaining neutral buoyancy is the key to easy diving. Not only that, once your buoyancy control is good, learning other skills like underwater photography, fish identification and underwater navigation is a whole lot easier! The underwater environment will thank you as well, since good buoyancy control keeps you from crashing into the coral reef and other natural habitats you encounter.
- A good place to start is with the right BCD since different models provide different amounts of lift. Coldwater scuba divers wear different wetsuits and more weight than tropical scuba divers and the BCD they wear need to be appropriate to the activity.
- Wearing the right amount of weight is essential to achieving buoyancy superstar status. When weighted properly and holding a normal breath, you should float at eye level. Then you’ll be able to sink slowly below the surface feet first when you relax and fully exhale, making sure you’ve dumped all the air out of your BC as well as out of your lungs. If you’re using a full scuba tank when you do this check, then add 2.5kg/5lbs to offset the air you use up while diving. These types of peak performance buoyancy skills are the basis for easy scuba diving.
- Note the word ‘slowly.’ If you sink like a stone then you’re wearing too much weight! On the other hand if you and your BCD are fully exhaled and your head’s still above water, try adding a few pounds.
- Adjust your weight for what you’re wearing and where you’re scuba diving. The type of dry suit or wetsuit you have on will affect your buoyancy, and everyone’s more buoyant in saltwater versus fresh.
- Get horizontal as soon as you can. Once underwater, you’ll start descending faster as the water pressure compresses your wetsuit, reducing your buoyancy. To counteract this, move into a swimming position as soon as you’re completely underwater. Add small amounts of air to your BCD so you descend slower and arrive near the bottom neutrally buoyant.
- Remember your scuba tank will become lighter during the dive so make sure your descents are easy. If you have to struggle to get down, chances are you’ll have to work hard to stay down at the end of the dive and making a safety stop will be difficult if you’re too buoyant.
- Wearing too much weight can be just as exhausting as wearing too little. If you’re constantly adding a bunch of air to your BC to stay off the bottom, then dumping it when you move a little shallower, you’re probably overweighted. On a multilevel dive you should be able to easily move between deeper and shallower depths without making drastic adjustments.
Add and subtract air from the BCD in small amounts, using short bursts of the inflator or brief dumps through the exhaust valve. Then relax and breathe normally while using a stable underwater landmark as a reference to see whether you’re still rising or falling before making more adjustments. A small amount of air either way can make a big difference.
For more subtle fine-tuning, try using breath control before reaching for your BCD inflator. You’ll find you can adjust your buoyancy by simply taking a deep breath or exhaling. In fact, when neutrally buoyant you’ll notice that you gently rise and fall with each breath; this is normal and natural. Remember, though, to never hold your breath.
Consider dedicating a scuba dive or two to mastering your buoyancy skills. The payoff can be remarkable, rewarding you with better air consumption, increased confidence and more energy. Like keeping your car between the lines on the road, obtaining neutral buoyancy becomes an automatic habit that occurs effortlessly once you get the hang of it.